I grew up in the South. In north Grady County. In a farming area. I worked in fields, I hoed peanuts, chopped cotton, gathered peanuts, picked cotton, gathered tobacco, cut okra, and I attended segregated schools all the way until ROTC Summer Camp at Fort Benning.
I worked together with black people in the fields. I sat under shade trees and drank water, RC Colas, and ate snacks with blacks and all of us were OK with that.
We swam together, we played together, but the blacks could not go to school with us.
I was fortunate to be selected to be on a trading post staff at a Boy Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge, Pa. The professional Boy Scout who managed the trading post came to me and said that he had selected the place for my tent to be beside a black Boy Scout, but that he would move him if I wanted. I could not fully understand his motive, but I said I don’t have any problem with being where you place my tent. I still remember his look when I said that, like, “Are you serious?”
Fast forward a few years when I was about to enter active duty in the United States Army. One of my Dad’s friends asked me what I would do if I were told to go someplace and help (and he used the N word) get into school.
I said, “I will go because I have sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”
That did not go over too well with him.
Then later when I was in primary helicopter school at Camp Wolters, Texas, near Mineral Wells, I stopped by a bar one night and was minding my own business sitting at the bar when I felt a tap on my right shoulder. I turned around, and was face to face with two big Texas cowboys. One of them asked me, “What do you think of that mess in Oxford, Mississippi and them letting James Meredith into Ole Miss?”
I summoned all the courage I could muster and said, “I don’t care for it one bit. James should be able to go where he wants to go without any resistance from anyone!”
Those cowboys looked at me and then one of them said, “Man, you are all right! We like your attitude.”
I have used the N-word in my time. I thought it was an acceptable term, but I often wondered why it was not said to a person’s face. My mother told me that it was not a word that I should become accustomed to using, that it was not an acceptable word.
She had already made me pull bitter weeds for using the word “et,” like, “I done et supper.” I felt that bitter weed pulling was coming again, so I stopped using that word.
So, there. I have admitted to using that word a long time ago. If someone wants to take that to another level, then come on — let’s get it on!
Duane “Banjo” Davis, of Pelham, is a graduate of Cairo High School and North Georgia College. He served over 20 years in the Army as an Infantry officer and helicopter pilot. He has a farm in Grady County, and serves Southwest Georgia Farm Credit as chief appraiser.